Broken Spoke: When did off-road get sanitised?

Broken Spoke: When did off-road get sanitised?


Broken Spoke: When did off-road get sanitised?


Duncan Moore


In this week’s Broken Spoke, Duncan asks when did off-road get sanitised?


I first got into mountain bikes in the late ‘80s and in those days mountain bikes were still a bit of a novelty. Fortunately, this meant that no one really seemed to mind where I rode off-road; bridleways, footpaths, basically any trail that looked interesting. It was a simpler time and I, and the majority of my riding friends, simply didn’t know any better as to where we could, or couldn’t, ride legally.


Broken Spoke: When did off-road get sanitised?

That innocence didn’t last too long. As more and more people got into mountain biking, ramblers and other trail users started to get uppity. You can’t really blame them, after all they had right of way originally and us off-road cyclists were a right bunch of upstarts all clad in bright coloured lycra and having a good time.


In reality, it wasn’t long before we learnt which trails we could ride. At first we simply relied on spotting the appropriate signs at the trail heads. Then we discovered the joy of Ordinance Survey maps and our world suddenly opened up.


I’m not going to claim to be an expert at map reading, but I learnt enough in those early days to know where I was, and to figure out how to get to where I wanted to be, without riding any footpaths. It was a great time of exploration and adventure, too. Weekends would be planned around visiting different parts of the country and in the weeks prior to a trip, evenings would be spent poring over the relevant OS maps linking bridleways, BOATs and restricted byways avoiding as much tarmac as possible.
MTBing 2

The strange thing is these days when I take the mountain bike out and head to my local bridleways I see very few other riders out there. However, if I head over to the local trail centre, the place is usually buzzing, even in the middle of the week. This leaves me asking myself have people forgotten how to read maps? Or do people no longer know where they’re allowed to ride off-road? Or are trail centres really that good?


Sure riding at a trail centre has its benefits; you’re not going to meet any walkers or horse riders on the trails, nor for that matter any other riders coming at you from the opposite direction at speed, but if you constantly ride at the same location surely those trails will become, dare I say it, boring and less challenging? Oh sure, you could say the same thing about bridleways, but my answer to that is turn around and ride them the other way, which is not something you can do at a trail centre. Stick to bridleways and there’s no restriction to when you can ride them either. My local trail centre isn’t open in the evening so there’s no chance of going night riding there, but bridleways are open 24 hours a day, and if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike in anger after dark you’re missing out on an adrenalin fuelled experience that will change the way you ride.


Broken Spoke: When did off-road get sanitised?

While trail centres have their place in the off-road canon – I can understand their appeal and have ridden them, and will probably do so again in the future – I’ll never give up riding the natural trails that lead me out into the country and can often surprise me. There is also the joy of finding a new café or pub at the end of a ‘real’ adventure ride on trails you’ve never ridden before.


Long live the OS map and a sense of adventure.

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